How much do triathletes need to learn about swimming? Ones goals in a triathlon are most relevent. If someone is trying to complete the entire distance of the event, "survival" - or competence or adequacy - is all that is required of their swimming ability. Ditto the bike and the run. If you walk through a pool or float on your back, so be it. I dont see anything wrong with this. During my first triathlon I swam with my head above water the whole time - I believe they call that 'tarzanning'. Ones own subjective measure is the only important issue when it comes to completion of amatuer atheltic events - Am I happy with my performance today?
Now, if one is trying to win a triathlon, their swim has to be pretty darn good. There is a saying - one cannot win a triathlon during the swim leg, but one can certainly lose the race during the swim leg.
As a bit of a side note, it seems like pure swimmers give triathletes a lot of grief. Cyclists do this too (obviously not every swimmer/cyclist does this). I never really understood it. Haters gonna hate, I guess.